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“Hyperlocal with global ambitions”: How Baltic Ventures plans to accelerate Liverpool’s tech scene

Baltic Ventures

“Liverpool is a melting pot of creativity and a place for pioneers.” 

Those were the words of Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, speaking at the busy launch of new tech accelerator Baltic Ventures last month.

Founders, CEOs and investors across the region and beyond have hailed Baltic Ventures, with the belief that this is exactly what Liverpool needs right now to support those budding pioneers.

“There’s something really special happening in Liverpool at the moment,” Claire Lewis, CEO of Baltic Ventures, tells Prolific North. “As a region, we have enormous potential on a global stage.”

Backed by £4.1m of funding from the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, the new accelerator plans to support the growth of early-stage tech businesses through access to mentoring, masterclasses and networking with investors – without needing to head to London.

It’s inspired by Carl Wong, co-founder and entrepreneur behind LivingLens, and his experiences building the business out of Liverpool’s Baltic Creative until it was snapped up by tech giant Medallia in 2020. 

Alongside his co-founder David Woods, the duo brought together a consortium and did a feasibility study alongside the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to figure out what the region needs to accelerate its start-up scene – and where it needs to plug the gaps. 

Involved in the North’s tech ecosystem for nearly a decade as well as launching Tech North before it became Tech Nation, Lewis jumped at the opportunity to become CEO. She joins other industry heavyweights behind the accelerator, including Baltic Creative CIC and Mark Rathbone, partner at Brabners and co-founder of the LCR Angel Network.

“I’ve been through many public bidding pieces, especially in tech, and quite often you just end up with something which is not really fit for purpose where it’s like a round peg to a square hole because of the funding criteria. This was genuinely different,” says Lewis.

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“We are in this for the long run”

Now operating out of Baltic Creative’s Digital House, Baltic Ventures has committed to supporting 50 early-stage tech companies over the next five years through its accelerator programmes.  

“This is not an overnight thing,” she says. “It has been a two to three year journey with a lot of conversations and engagement with not just founders, potential investors and stakeholders in the city, but more broadly beyond Liverpool.”

‘Accelerator 2023’, the first four-month tailored programme, will officially kick off in September where 10 initial companies will receive tailored support and an initial £50,000 in equity backing. 

“We’re not going to do a programme, see how it does and disappear. We are in this for the long run, we’re building something here to move the dial.

“It’s building bridges and relationships between investors to show what’s available here to invest into. We’re hoping those companies that go through the accelerator will be very successful in attracting follow-on funding. That’s a big part of it. 

“There’s a huge potential for a ripple effect across the broader community. It’s not just about the companies that take part in the accelerator, we are beginning to showcase and shine a spotlight on that community and companies based here.”

Looking back 10 years to Manchester’s tech scene, it was in a similar position to Liverpool with the number of companies and founders emerging. But it’s not about competing with other Northern cities, despite the structuring of local government or funding that “puts us in competition with each other”, now might be Liverpool’s time to shine. 

Lynn Haime, CEO of Baltic Creative and Claire Lewis, CEO of Baltic Ventures
Lynn Haime, CEO of Baltic Creative and Claire Lewis, CEO of Baltic Ventures

With the perspective that a “rising tide lifts all boats”, Baltic Ventures wants to play a key role in forging a much more collaborative community across cities too.

“Liverpool has a really strong start-up entrepreneurial ecosystem but it’s had its challenges in terms of the scale-up side and there’s not been a strong pipeline,” says programme director Mo Aldalou, formerly of Tech Nation and ex tech and business journalist.

“I felt myself being pulled into Liverpool but have never had the opportunity to really throw myself into the ecosystem. A big part of why I was excited about this opportunity was being involved in an ecosystem that has a huge amount of potential but still needed that catalyst moment.”

Fully expecting a positive reaction from founders and investors across Liverpool to say “this is a long time coming and this is exactly what Liverpool needs”, it seems like that moment is already on the horizon judging by the reaction outside of the North.

“The thing that has struck me the most is the reaction from founders and investors across the North but in places like London. Having a programme like this, with a wider initiative that is hyperlocal but with global ambitions and open to start-ups, investors and mentors from anywhere, has really resonated with people.”

He joins community manager Becca Harvey, former head of community and engagement at Social Value International, and operations manager Rachel Siner, previously working in operations at Apple’s European headquarters.

“Liverpool will always be part of their DNA”

The accelerator has already attracted applicants not just in Liverpool or the North, but across the UK in other major cities like London, Birmingham and Bristol, spanning sectors such as healthtech, fintech, gaming or edtech.

Although Baltic Ventures is an in-person programme designed to bring founders together at least once a week, companies joining the accelerator don’t need to be based in Liverpool. 

As with any “good” accelerator programme, it’s about striking a balance between equipping busy, early-stage founders who are “doing a million things at once” with enough support at the beginning of their journey, while recognising those businesses need to start building somewhere.

“Founders don’t need to relocate to Liverpool but that will naturally happen for some,” says Aldalou. “A programme that is really quite intimate, heavily focused on peer-to-peer networking support, will open up a brand new network for founders geographically. For companies that go through the programme, particularly for those from outside of Liverpool, Liverpool will always be part of their DNA in some form or another going forwards.”

In the next few months, the team plans to launch a new talent programme to create opportunities for founders to start building their teams in Liverpool. But making sure the region is attractive to investors is crucial too.

According to data platform Beauhurst, London still dominates as the most attractive location for VCs, taking 50% of equity deals since 2011, 15% more than its 35% share of high-growth companies. It’s a big issue Baltic Ventures hopes to address, creating visibility and building those investor networks across the region.

“There is incredible entrepreneurial talent in the Liverpool City region and across the North that’s under-invested in, especially the availability of early-stage capital for early-stage founders,” explains Lewis. “We were looking at how we would build a platform that will bring more early-stage investment and VC investment into our companies here.”

The timing and momentum building behind Baltic Ventures’ launch is “really interesting”, just as the Silicon Valley investor model is “starting to implode a bit because those valuations don’t play out in the long-term”. 

But here in the North, there’s now a buzz of entrepreneurial spirit, culture and talent to support highly scalable companies with that growth.

“We just need more capital than we’ve had but we can get to that profitability and do it in a much more commercial way than other ecosystems have done in the past. We believe that we have something really tangible here in terms of what we can deliver on a national stage for investors and for the founders.”

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